Barnsley Football Club lost an icon this morning with the passing of the one and only Norman Hunter.
One of Norman’s closest pals is another man steeped in Reds history, the legend that is Ronnie Glavin and it was with a real sadness that this afternoon we spoke about football’s untimely loss of an all-time great.
To put into context the closeness of Glavin and Hunter’s relationship, they were a few weeks from going away together, as Ronnie explained.
“We’ve been going away as families on holiday together for the last 15, 20 years or something. We were going away next month actually.
“We were close, we got on well together, he was such a great man.
“I’m devastated, I really am.
“He was a fantastic guy and even in that horrible situation he was trying to fight his way out of it right to the very end, that was the mark of the man, he wouldn’t give up.”
Having taken over as Reds manager early into the 1980/81 campaign, Hunter would that season lead Barnsley back into the second tier.
Glavin was full of praise for his former gaffer, a man who he told us was a ‘pleasure’ to work under and gave the Reds an assured belief that made tough moments easy to deal with.
“He was a great manager was Norman.” Ronnie told us. “I think the best thing that he had about him was his presence. You always felt confident when he was at the helm, he had that aura.
“If you look at some of the games and the places we went to away from home under him - we went to Stamford Bridge, we went to Newcastle with Kevin Keegan and all those players, we even went to Anfield and Leeds United and gave all of them tough times.
“I don’t even recall a game against Leeds that we lost.
“Sheffield United, Sheffield Wednesday, we beat them all.
“Manchester City at Oakwell. I could go on and on. But we went up against these big clubs and it didn’t matter because Norman had this presence about him.”
Ronnie remembers the ‘incredible’ atmosphere around Oakwell during the Hunter-era.
He told us the work on the training ground was ‘enjoyable’, that the club built up a fearsome reputation as the Reds went on to earn promotion for a manager he called his friend.
He said: “Training under him was a delight. You looked forward to going in. Don’t get me wrong, it was hard work but it was enjoyable. Every day was a pleasure to be in and around it.
“There used to be hundreds watching training! The fanbase at the time was just incredible. It was a delight to be a part of everything about the club at that time.
“The only disappointment of that time was not winning the league, because we were by far the better team. Everybody was terrified of playing us. But we beat Rotherham to get promoted and it was a special time. We should have beaten them before but I missed a penalty!
“Norman built that team and it was a superb one who everybody was aware of. I can’t speak highly enough of him as a manager, or as a man. He was my buddy, not just a manager and we were only having dinner about four weeks ago and about to go on holiday again.”
Football has indeed lost one of its most iconic figures, certainly in this country. But it’s an awful day for those closest to Norman to come to terms with.
Ronnie gave us an insight into family life in the Hunter household and how until recently, he was proving he’d still got that ‘magic’ with a football.
“A couple of months ago we went over to his place and he was in the garden with the grandkids and one of the lads threw a ball towards him and he just instantly gets it under control!
“He had a left foot like a magic wand. You don’t lose it.
“But he’s got three fabulous grandkids, he’s obviously got his own two kids, but his grandkids they idolised him.
“It’s so sad, I can’t tell you how devastated I am about it. I honestly thought that Tuesday or Wednesday he was - I said to my wife “he’s coming through this” - I was convinced, I know what he’s like, he will fight through this.
“So this is so sad, I feel for all those who care so much for him.”
Whilst to Barnsley supporters it’s his success as a manager in the Oakwell dugout that speaks volumes, Norman Hunter was a terrifically successful footballer, in particular for Leeds United where he won trophy after trophy for the West Yorkshire club.
One of Sir Alf Ramsey’s World Cup winning squad of 1966, Hunter was more than the ‘hard-man’ character that he’s often portrayed, as Glavin tells us.
“He was an unbelievable footballer.” He stated.
“A world class defender. He knew how to defend. People will refer to the ‘bites yer legs’ and all that but he was such a good player and people shouldn’t forget that. He was a class act.”
“I remember him playing in midfield and he barely moved. Not in a bad way, but he didn’t need to because he knew the game so well so he’d get the ball, and he’d give it us to go and hurt the opposition.
“Norman was a very good player and so he was a great coach. On many occasions he’d take us through drills and you’d learn so much from him. In the modern age the coaches talk about forcing the player inside but Norman would say “I’d never force them inside, I want them on my strong side so I can deal with them - have you seen my right foot, it’s for standing on” and that was him, he knew how to play the game and his career tells you that.”
It’s been a tough few years for Barnsley FC with the passing of so many club legends. This fact wasn’t lost on Ronnie who recalls another memory of time spent with Hunter, when they attended the service of Norman Rimmington BEM in December of 2016.
“I went to Rimmo’s funeral with Norman. We walked in together and we were laughing. Not disrespectfully, but because we were remembering Rimmo and the good times we’d had together.
“It was a sad day losing Norman Rimmington and today is equally so. Two massive figures, icons of the football club and it is fitting I suppose that now, they’ll be together again.”
Barnsley FC want to thank Ronnie Glavin for his time today, and to remind Reds supporters to stay at home, help protect the NHS and save lives.